Interiorscape Customer Retention: Reverse the Loss

Customer retention is a priority in any industry.

At some point, all of us interiorscapers will experience losing a client. It’s an inevitable fact of life.

Whether due to a corporate financial decision, a design change, or new management, a time comes when you receive that dreaded phone call or email that your services are no longer needed. Losing business is a hard blow to absorb, especially if it’s one of your most profitable accounts.

When you lose a small account that is difficult to manage or on the low end of the pay scale, you don’t suffer as much. When the service termination comes from one of your biggest clients that you depend on to help cover rent, payroll, and other major business expenses, it’s devastating.

Hence, I prefer having a balance of small to medium size accounts with a few larger ones. I know a local landscape nursery that weeded out their small clientele and focused solely on one major chain store that supported their entire operation for years. During the economic decline, the box store’s corporate headquarters made a policy change, stating they would only pay for sold plants and return the rest to the vendor. A year later, that local nursery went out of business. 

No matter how large or small, losing business is always financially risky. Here are some tactics I use to reverse cancellation and increase customer retention.

Customer Retention Tip #1: Ask Why

On its own, “Why?” sounds a little pathetic, so I might say, “I’m so sorry to hear that. Could I ask the reason for your cancelling? Is there something I can do to fix the situation?” 

If you know you’ve been providing good service, most of the time cancellation is a result of an economic situation. If a client explains they need to cut costs, I’ll try to negotiate a budget they can afford. Unless the business is heading into foreclosure or behind in their payments, I believe it’s worthwhile to figure out how to decrease my expenses. 

There are several options to offer the customer lower costs, such as providing bi-weekly service instead of weekly. Consider cutting back on the amount of plants, flowering rotations, or using hardier varieties such as dracaenas that require less maintenance and are more cost effective. Limit your services from free plant replacement option to maintenance. Using artificial botanicals in place of live orchids or bromeliads will reduce a company’s reoccurring expenses.

Customer Retention Tip #2: Bad Service

color rotation

Some plant technicians are better than others, and the client may not be happy with the service. I think most people don’t enjoy complaining, maybe even avoiding issues until it gets so bad, they decide cancelling is the best option. Checking in with your clients regularly or asking for performance feedback can literally save an account before it’s too late. 

If you haven’t been doing that, receiving the cancellation notice is your last chance to rectify the situation. Promising a change in technicians, more management quality control visits, or even financially compensating a disgruntled client by a reduction in cost is worth saving that relationship. 

But, if you cannot provide better results, don’t bother offering, because that will make the client even more upset and more likely to publicly share their dissatisfaction. Getting a few bad reviews or posts online can hugely hurt your present customer retention and future business.

Customer Retention Tip #3: Stop by in Person

Have you ever broken up with someone through a letter, email, text, another person? I had that happen to me. For him, it was the easy way out, since he didn’t have to deal with my emotional response. (I was actually relieved, in case you were wondering).

My point is, unless you have been banned from the location, show your client they are a priority to you and go to their office. 

I always bring something nice with me, such as a beautiful orchid or a bottle of Merlot. At the reception desk, I’ll request a moment of their time to discuss a remedy for both parties. You do not want to aggravate them by barging in unexpected. Even if they cannot or will not see you, at least you can leave a token of your appreciation. Everyone enjoys gifts, and such may improve your chances of speaking with them. 

Just like breaking up, saying no is much harder for the client face to face.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you cannot change their decision. In those instances, I list all the actions I could have done better and do my best to improve. When a new owner has a different vision, or it’s a circumstance beyond my control, I try not to take it personally. As my husband recently reminded me, “When one door closes, another will open.” In the meantime, I double my effort knocking on new doors.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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